The storefront of 351 W. Main St. stood vacant for the past seven or eight years, but anyone who has gone past the building recently surely has activity inside.
Behind the plastic on the windows, a wonderful transformation is taking place. The final renovations for Bernie's Tap Room and Restaurant are nearing completion before opening for business around the middle of September.
Owners, brothers John Bernhardt of Brookfield and Bob Bernhardt of Waukesha, bought the building five years ago in the hopes that someone would rent it for use as a pub or restaurant.
"Just the climate of what was going on around here was the reason for the purchase," explained Bob.
At the time there was a resurgence of business throughout the entire downtown area, with new restaurants, shops, art galleries, boutiques and other businesses.
But even the prime location in downtown Waukesha wasn't enough to lure in any takers when the recession hit. So, the building sat empty. About a year ago, the brothers started talking about opening their own pub and restaurant, one focusing on craft beers and well paired food.
Bob liked to sample local beers while traveling around the country. With many craft breweries around the state producing delicious craft beers, "We decided that was the route to go."
Bernie's Tap Room and Restaurant will feature 24 beers on tap with 23 of those being craft brews, mostly from around the state. Customers can enjoy pale ales, stouts, ambers, lagers and others from breweries such as Ale Asylum, Sprecher, Milwaukee Brewing Company, Lakefront Brewery, Lazy Monk Brewery and more. Beers will rotate just about each month, and will vary depending on the season and what each brewery is offering.
"Craft beer, for us, is something we found over the years that has so many breweries that have good tasting beers," said Bob.
The Bernhardts will also feature a new trend in the area: wine on tap. Wine from the Sonoma Valley region will be served out of a sixteenth metal barrel.
"These wines are a better quality," said Bob.
Because the wine isn't coming from a bottle that has been sitting open, "you're going to get fresh wine all the time." Bernie's Tap Room will have four wines on tap: red Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Chardonnay. Just like the craft beers, the wine offering will change from time to time.
In addition to the craft beers and wine, Bernie's Tap Room will offer favorites such as Miller, Budweiser and Spotted Cow.
Inside the kitchen, staff will be baking homemade specialty pizzas with a flatbread crust including a pulled duck confit with a Sage Cream sauce. "It's just a fabulous tasting pizza." Also on the menu will be sliders, giant pretzels and salads. The menu is purposefully small since "our focus really is on the craft beers." However, the menu items were chosen with great care to match the beer.
"It really brings out the flavors of the beer and food when you pair them together," said Bob.
He adds that simplicity is a factor because "we're trying to do what we do well."
So what's in a name? Bob said that in high school, he and John got the nickname of "Bernie" because of their last name.
A place you want to be
As water damaged drywall was being torn down from the walls at the start of construction, theBernhardts found something quitespecial: the original stone walls and wood rafters. The original pieces fit perfectly with the German Beer Hall look the brothers were hoping to create.
Diners will be able to eat on one of four German beer hall style tables, complete with benches, that were constructed of old barn wood from Racine. Along the parameter of the room will also be regular tables and pub tables. Between the tables and 20 seats at the bar, Bernie's Tap Room will be able to accommodate around 100 diners.
Music will be played through a premium sound system, but at a volume low enough that patrons will still be able to talk to each other.
"We're trying to keep it more intimate," said Bob.
"We're going to be a place you want to go to and will be happy to go to," he added. "Our goal is to make this an enjoyable place to be at."
Bernie's Tap Room and Restaurant is expecting to have a soft opening around the second week of September.
If you go
Who: Bernie's Tap Room and Restaurant
What: Specializing in locally brewed beers and food pairings
Where: 351 W. Main St., Waukesha
Hours: Monday through Friday 3 to 12 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 12 p.m. to 12 a.m.
Opening: mid September
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